US-Poland preview, what players need to perform
26 March 3:30p ET/12:30p PT
TV: Fox Soccer Channel
Internet text feed: US Soccer's Match Tracker
Much like March 2006, it looks like snow will be falling as these two face off in Poland. In that World Cup warm up match, Clint Dempsey scored the one and only goal. Will today be a repeat of that result?
If so, it will take a lot more work by the US as Poland's Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker has reshaped this team since taking over after their 2006 World Cup burnout. His leadership has lead Poland to qualify for their first ever Euro by winning their group (which included Portugal, Belgium and Serbia). In the process, the only surrendered 12 goals in 14 matches and only allowed more then 1 goal in four of those matches (only one of these games was in Poland). This points to a defense that works well together.
For the US to crack their backline, they will need to control things in the middle. This means a lot of work for Michael Bradley and, with all odds, Ricardo Clark. They are going to need some precise passing and smart ball control to free things up in the center. If they can hold, it should allow Landon Donovan to roam a bit, which is when he is most dangerous.
But in their way stand Dariusz Dudka and Mariusz Lewandowski. These two are great at stopping attacks before they are dangerous and are going to be a thorn for Clint Dempsey. He has some great ball skills, but he's looked tired for a couple months now, so he will be hard pressed in this one, which means the big pressure is on Eddie Johnson.
So far at Fulham Johnson has look rather poor, meaning he needs something from today. Even if it is not a goal, he needs to force some chances and lift the pressure off Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley. If he just sits and waits for the ball, he will be a non-factor of the highest order.
Poland has their own issue up top as they really only have one quality striker. Captain Maciej Zurawski. If Onyewu can keep him caged without picking up an early yellow, the US will be in fine shape, but one slip and things could easily tank.
As far as the US's biggest weakness, it is the left side. My guess is Pearce will get the start at left back with Lewis in front of him. No offence to either but Pearce has yet to prove himself and Lewis is a bit past his best. If Poland has a clear road down the left, Howard is going to be busy in the net.
So who has needs to perform? Let's go to the pressure cooker:
Heath Pearce (D) - The US needs a left back, but is he the one?
Cory Gibbs (D) - Has he recovered from injury enough to return to the fold?
Eddie Johnson (F) - Can he do something against a tough side on foreign soil?
Landon Donovan (M) - Will the European cloud of death that hangs over him finally part?
Benny Feilhaber (M) - Is Derby daft for not playing him?
Marcus Hahnemann (GK) - If you are not the number one keeper in the US, the pressure is always on to prove you are better then the rest. With Guzan looking like a lock on the second spot, might Hahnemann be fighting to stay ahead of Keller for that third place?
Jonathan Spector (D) - Showed well for the U23's but he is second in the middle for now. To move up, he will need to be near perfect.
Carlos Bocanegra (D) - A lock at center but with no club time, is his hold loosening?
Oguchi Onyewu (D) - He is also a lock for now, but can he play a physical game without getting a card, plus others are creeping up the ranks?
Brian Ching (F) - If he sees playing time he needs to show that he can be a threat like McBride.
Ricardo Clark (M) - Can he handle the big time?
Jay DeMerit (D) - An opening might be coming available in the back but can he get in there enough to prove that he can take it?
Eddie Lewis (M) - Don't think he really has a chance at 2010, but if he wants in, he needs to prove that the age issue been over played.
Josh Wolff (F) - His year in Germany has been good, now can he give some punch to the US attack?
Clint Dempsey (F) - Can an exhausted playmaker beat a tough defenses?
Steve Cherundolo (D) - Having a solid year in Germany and is the go to on the right.
Michael Bradley (M) - Is killing in Holland, can he do it under tougher circumstances?
Tim Howard (GK) - Hay Guzan, you ain't touching me.
Me: US 1-1 Poland
Michael Bradley will get the goal
Wife: US 1-2 Poland